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MIJ: Measure Q is the way to get SMART rolling
Thursday 9 Oct 2008, 07:08
Filed under: bicycle, Marin, Railroad, SMART, Sonoma, trails, transit

Staff Report
Article Launched: 10/08/2008 12:03:39 AM PDT

FOR PEOPLE stuck in Highway 101’s daily traffic jams between Novato and Larkspur, putting a commuter train on the tracks can’t happen quickly enough.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train and trail plan is a regional answer to a regional traffic problem. SMART is back on the ballot as Measure Q, a quarter-cent sales tax increase needed to launch a commuter train and build a bike and pedestrian path next to the 70 miles of tracks.

Measure Q offers some improvements over the 2006 version that won 57 percent of the vote in Marin.

When combined with stronger support from Sonoma voters, the 2006 measure tallied 65 percent, falling just short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

SMART deserves a second chance. Commuters and and the local economy deserve an alternative to increasing traffic congestion.

Since 2006, the commute hasn’t improved. The debate over SMART hasn’t changed much either.

Measure Q’s opponents in Marin point to the significant cost – $1.1 billion in capital and operation costs over 20 years – and ridership projections for Marin commuters that they say are not worth the investment.

The estimated cost is financed by a quarter-cent sales tax increase in the two counties. The modest amount softens the blow to taxpayers while paying for a major public works project.

SMART would provide passenger service along 70 miles of track from Cloverdale to Larkspur. The 14 stations would include stops in Larkspur, downtown San Rafael, the
Marin Civic Center and two in Novato.

Poll after poll places traffic congestion as Marin’s biggest problem. We agree with local residents.

SMART may not be an instant remedy for Highway 101’s traffic problems, but it should help.

For motorists stuck in the time-consuming, pollution-spewing morning commute crunch through Novato and Terra Linda, using those publicly owned tracks makes sense. Seeing a commuter train zip past them might be enough to get them out of their cars.

Completion of the widening of Highway 101 through San Rafael will provide some relief, but the long-term answer – from economic and environmental standpoints – is getting people out of their cars and into public transit. SMART offers an attractive alternative to sitting in a car stuck in traffic.

A commute that takes 45 minutes to an hour to crawl between Novato and San Rafael makes a compelling case for an environmentally friendly alternative.

The serious threat of global warming and high gasoline prices are reason enough to come up with a better way. Local employers complain that they are losing good workers who have grown weary of the commute. That needs to change.

Measure Q will help us address some of those problems. We are convinced that commuters want a more comfortable, less stressful and more environmentally friendly way to get around.

WE ALSO are convinced that SMART – think of it as an express bus without stop-and-go traffic – will entice many motorists out of their cars.

Marin’s economy relies on a workforce in which many of those employees live in Sonoma County. Using the tracks that parallel Highway 101 to connect their homes and jobs makes sense. That economic reliance is why so many local employers are working to pass SMART. Measure Q’s success is so important that many have announced plans to operate shuttles between the stations and their businesses.

The addition of a trail will provide a safe, north-south route that bicyclists could use and leave their cars at home.

Measure Q also has drawn strong backing from local leaders with strong environmental credentials, among them Assemblyman Jared Huffman, Supervisor Charles McGlashan and Marge Macris, a former county planning director and an advocate for tougher growth restrictions, and Larry Fahn of Mill Valley, former head of the Sierra Club.

SMART is needed to address our region’s chronic traffic problems. Measure Q is a smart investment in Marin and the North Bay’s future. The IJ recommends a “yes” vote.

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